As our group climbed the final spiral steps back up to ground level at the catacombs in Paris, Gentry was already planning our journey to the top of the Eiffel Tower. I didn’t know how I would survive another 1,000 steps to the top of the Eiffel Tower. According to our phones, we had walked over 13 miles that day alone. For a runner, my legs felt shaky, and my brain felt jetlagged beyond repair.
My body had reached the point past exhaustion. I reasoned another three hours out and about in Paris wouldn’t make me any more tired. I couldn’t resist the adrenaline and sense of adventure Paris created in an American like me. We were only in Paris for a couple days on a class trip during spring break; I could not let this opportunity pass.
And I couldn't stop thinking about what my parents must have felt when they came to Paris almost 30 years ago on their honeymoon. They’d seen the same tower. The same lights. I could imagine my mom bundled up in every layer imaginable, my dad in a light jacket. Their glasses would be stained with droplets of rain. They were in awe.
And even if they were currently halfway across the world in Bloomington watching TV in our living room, I could hear their voices, encouraging me to go.
So, after struggling to find a restaurant and battling the language barrier on the Metro, I found myself standing next to my classmates underneath the one and only Eiffel Tower. It was 9:45 p.m. and beginning to rain.
Youth tickets were for ages 4-24. As an 18-year-old, I felt young again. In Paris, I was no adult.
We were only allowed to go as high as the second floor due to the rain and wind. I was honestly a bit disappointed when I heard this. If we were going to take the stairs, I was ready to go to the tippy top. Nonetheless, I was grateful and anticipating the shorter trip. The bright side: fewer steps.
I did not let go of the railing the entire time; the steps were wet and grated with tiny square holes. We were surrounded by thin iron bars through which you could see the intricate architecture of the tower as well as a dark, foreboding sky full of rain and tiny, sparkly lights. It was hard not to get distracted by the golden glow of the building.
About two minutes into our ascent, we saw the elevator zooming up. It was going up at an angle. It was unnerving. Frightening. But easy.
Lucky them, they’re not destroying their legs right now.
But they’re not with my classmates Gentry, Miles, Dominic, Natalie, Mike, Lauren and Peyton. They’re not laughing at Dominic singing “22” by Taylor Swift as we climb each step. They don’t feel the cold drops of rain hit their cheeks as they struggle to catch their breath. They aren’t experiencing one of the most surreal, electrifying moments of my life.
Soon enough, we’d walked up 360 steps to the first floor of the Eiffel Tower. I half-ran, half-walked to the edge to look. The view was graceful, soft compared to the chaotic, noisy view from the Empire State building in New York City. The buildings and lights had a delicate glow to them; they weren’t showing off but had a humble presence. I could see the whites and blues and greens of the city. Some red and pink. I could see the green rectangular expanse of grass that led to the tower, a miniature skyline, skeletons of trees.
All too soon, we decided it was time to continue our journey up. We had 347 steps to go. Just over halfway. At this point, we were all soaked to some extent. Our coats were a shade darker. Our hair was damp and slightly frizzy. Lauren had taken off her glasses because they’d gotten too foggy. Dominic kept his on and looked through the specks of rain. He kept his camera wrapped under his coat to protect it from the water.
When we made it to our final destination, we immediately dispersed to go take in the new version of the view. My eyes scanned the city, soaking it all in before I found myself on a plane again.
As we touched land after walking down all 707 steps, Mike pointed out it was five till 11; the tower would light up at the top of the hour.
“Don’t say anything if I start crying,” Lauren warned us.
I smiled as I looked at my watch. Three Mississippi. Two Mississippi. One Mississippi.
In an instant, a cacophony of bright, little dots illuminated the Eiffel tower. It watched over everyone as it blinked and twinkled, reassuring us it was still there.
I couldn't tear my eyes away. I felt a sort of sentimental, bittersweet feeling course through my body as I observed from the ground. I'd underestimated how much a single building could move you. The golden glow of the building illuminated the hazy, moving clouds in the distance. The white blinking lights were quick. Punchy, yet alluring. Hypnotizing. I fell into a trance, and everything around me faded away. I had traveled back in time to 1996 and could picture my parents standing next to me, entranced by the view.
All of a sudden, the twinkling lights stopped, and I snapped out of my trance. We were all quiet for a minute as we processed what we had just witnessed. To my left, Miles was slowly blinking, as if he’d just been hypnotized. He wasn’t the only one. We’d all fallen under the spell Eiffel cast on us.
Isabella Vesperini (she/her) is a freshman at IU majoring in journalism and minoring in Italian. She is a news writer for the IDS, an Ernie Pyle Scholar and member of the WIUX News Radio Station.